In the snow and cold of the late winter days of 2019, I remarked that pitchers and catchers were soon due to report to major league baseball spring training camps, so clearly the world was about to get warmer and better. Gee, that turned out well, didn’t it? I almost hate to mention it for fear of jinxing us again, but pitchers and catchers for some teams report on 16-17 February, with full squad workouts usually beginning the following week. We’ll see what happens (fingers crossed).
Just a brief aside before turning to the really important parts of the update – like Truly Awful Puns. It seems like the virus has brought forth a plethora of apocalypse-type movies. The past couple of nights, Nita and I have taken a break from BBC’s British detective shows and watched a couple of recent additions to Netflix. We sort of regret doing so. Last night we tuned in on “The Midnight Sky” starring and directed by George Clooney. We usually like his stuff but we were disappointed in this one: a C+ at best in our decidedly unprofessional opinions. A couple of nights before, we watched “Greenland,” an equally cheesy story about saving selected experts from an asteroid about ready to strike the planet and destroy all human life. That stuff makes you yearn for a return to really quality productions: I mean, what ever happened to Hopalong Cassidy and the Three Stooges?
This month’s epistle contains a bit of writing news and, amidst the reality of what a terrible year 2020 was, a look at some other really bad years that have bedeviled the global community in the past. Then, of course, a couple of really bad puns. (I will understand if your past experience with these updates causes you skip everything else and go directly to them.)
Writing news: Well, perhaps 2021 will be better after all. On January 1, I received an email advising that one of my poems titled “Shadows” had been accepted for publication by the “Months to Years” Magazine. “Months to Years” publishes poetry related to reflections on life’s events and passages, mortality, and similar subjects. The confirmation letter indicates that the print version will be published in the magazine’s winter edition (don’t have a date on that) with some offerings appearing before that in on-line releases. More news to follow.
I also have a couple of items under consideration elsewhere including a baseball story about coaching a Little League team years ago. As I have mentioned before, many magazines are experiencing delays in responding to submissions and queries. The virus has apparently affected work patterns, staff sizes, etc. The “Shadows” poem was submitted last June. I had pretty much forgotten about it – so the January 1 note was truly a very welcome surprise.
Some other really bad years: There were some interesting end of year discussions in magazines and newspapers about the relative “badness” (okay, okay, a questionable word – indulge me) of 2020. I was interested in finding other years that wreaked havoc with the population.
In terms of U.S. history, a panel of 28 Ivy League and Oxford professors rated 2020 eighth in terms of “badness.” Their ranking of worst years was as follows:
- 1862: The Civil War escalated in levels of violence and casualties. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in American history.
- 1929: The stock market crash destroyed life savings overnight and brought the onset of the Great Depression.
- 1838: Overall, during the period 1830-1850 as many as 100,000 Native Americans in the Southeastern United States were forcibly removed and sent to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). In 1838 specifically, 15,000 Cherokees were sent to Indian Territory. Four thousand died enroute.
- 1919: Spanish Flu. The outbreak killed 675,000 Americans and perhaps as many as 50 million worldwide.
- 1968. Assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, sparked rioting in many cities. Casualty figures spiked in Vietnam – the bloodiest year to date.
- 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis. The closest the world has come to nuclear war.
- 2001. 9/11: The single deadliest terrorist attack in global history – 2,996 (by most counts) were killed as airliners struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in the crash of a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. Four hundred EMTs were killed responding to the Twin Towers catastrophe.
- 2020: Three hundred forty thousand American deaths at this point.
Going far back in world history, the scholars identified 1348 – the year the Black Death peaked in Europe – as a monstrously bad year. During the period 1347-1350, the disease, apparently induced by fleas carried in by rats, may have killed 50-60 percent of the continent’s population.
Possibly the all-time worst, though, admittedly an event I had not known about, occurred in 536 A.D. An inexplicable dense fog shrouded Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, darkening day and night for 18 months. Temperatures fell several degrees, making the next ten years the coldest decade in 2,300 years. Crops failed causing widespread starvation. Compounding the problem was on onset of bubonic plague (the Plague of Justinian) that wiped out a third of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. In recent years, scientists have concluded that the mysterious killer fog, or ash cloud, was brought on by the cataclysmic eruption of a volcano, or volcanos, in Iceland. The initial eruptions lasted a considerable time and were followed by gigantic explosions in 540 and 547 as well. The resulting economic disruption lasted until 640, more than a century.
Devastation such as described in the “worst year” stories and an article in this morning’s paper that as many as one out of every 980 Americans may be afflicted with COVID-19 or a follow-on strain before this is all over certainly make concerns about baseball and spring training small in comparison. It is time to rejoice and take comfort in friends and family and to celebrate the many “pay it forward” acts of kindness that do not receive the attention they deserve.
And now – I blame what follows totally on my daughters – TRULY AWFUL PUNS.
Doctor: How is the kid who swallowed the coins doing?
Nurse: There’s no change.
Question: How many tickles does it take to tickle an octopus?
I know; they just keep getting worse.
Best wishes to all for a joyous New Year,